The Fix Is In?

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: March 31, 2009

PHILADELPHIA – Bernie Parrish, it seems, has been playing defense all his life. From his playing days with the Cleveland Browns, he saw the future in understanding the need to look out for himself and his fellow players down the road.

Parrish would be instrumental in helping to set up the first Players’ Union back in the 1960s – the same one that would morph into the NFLPA and Players, Inc. today. “I got interested in it after I was voted player rep for the Browns in 1960,” said Parrish,” so I’ve been at this a while.

“We sat down and tore a retirement plan out of the hides of men like George Halas, Paul Brown and George Preston Marshall – a buncha tough old buzzards; developed and gifted a pension plan that became what the modern players have now; and baseball followed suit with our premise soon after.

“Fortunately, for the baseball players, Marvin Miller kept the baseball union straight and made it his business to look out for all his people, and Major League Baseball’s pensioners today receive four to five times more money from their sport than football, in spite of the fact we’ve made more money over the same time frame – while Gene Upshaw & (former NFL commissioner Paul) Tagliabue diverted from that path with retired players (from 1982 and back) into other plans for the players that excluded us.

The death of former NFLPA head Upshaw led to speculation a new leader would be sympathetic to a faction of retired players – Parrish among them – and resolve several long – standing issues; as well as a couple which emanated from the recent award of $28.1 million dollars won in a class – action suit spearheaded by Parrish and Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley, now stuck in appeal.

During Super Bowl week the speculation of a new leader narrowed down to two principal candidates – former players Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent; but the ascension of lawyer/lobbyist DeMaurice Smith to president of NFLPA was a complete surprise to just about everyone – except Parrish.

Parrish revealed on the BASN/ shows, “the Football Reporters Online” and “The Batchelor Pad” hosted by our colleague, L.A. Batchelor that the process in electing Smith, in his opinion, wasn’t on the up – and – up.

“I was in Tampa during Super Bowl week at the Marriott Waterside,” recalls Parrish, “which was across the street from where most of the Super Bowl stuff was happening, and was having a coffee at a Starbucks which was adjacent to the lobby and the Café Waterside when here comes the inner circle of the NFLPA – Richard Bertelsen, Jeffrey Kessler, Clark Gaines, Jack Quinn, etc. They walked right past me, and didn’t recognize me. There were a bunch of fans around, so it was a little loud.

“Kessler, who was eye to eye with me for 7 hours during the deposition in the class action suit, is looking right at me. I was ready to say, ‘So, Jeff – did you bring the check?’ But he didn’t recognize me, and I’m thinking, ‘this guy has got to be one arrogant ass…’

“They all looked dead at me, walked by and then walked into the Café Waterside, which was closed, but the maitre’d let them in and closed the door; he (maitre’d) soon left, and I walked in and sat down at a table right next to them about 4-5 feet away. I’m looking out the window at the Coast Guard gunboats – and I listened for 90 minutes to them talking about several things – including rigging the election and getting Smith enough votes to get him in as Executive Director.

“They also brought in Cornwell as a supposed challenger. At first I thought they were talking about (former Buffalo Bill) Cornelius Bennett, but it was Cornwell, who was on the list of nominees as of January 29.

“So here I’m thinking the judge leaves Berthelsen (de facto Executive Director) and Kessler (lead counsel vs. Retired players) in charge in spite of the fact they ruled their action shirked their fiduciary responsibility to the retired players, instead of appointing a conservator like they did with the Teamsters after we won the lawsuit.

“They had arranged through several phone calls what they called ‘breakout meetings’ with 10 guys and one meeting went 6-0 against them, so they reworked the process.

“They also talked about getting a hold of Mary Moran, daughter of Rep. Jim Moran, who works for NFLPA in Human Resources, saying they needed to get a hold of her right away and she had to make her dad make these calls right away.

“We know he (Moran) called Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Rep. Kendrick Meeks (D-FL) because Troy Vincent had called these congressmen, to insure the election was honest; but Rep. Moran outed Vincent due to the fact there were indications if Vincent had been elected, he would’ve cleaned house and fired his daughter in the wake of that move.

But Rep. Moran outed Vincent not just to help Smith to win the election. Patton Boggs, who is the largest lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., would be seen in a favorable light by NFLPA. So there were more things involved than just trying to have Moran help his daughter keep her job – there’s a lot of politicking goin’ on,” Parrish said.

According to Parrish, Patton Boggs earned $330 million in monies in 2008, and allegedly gave Moran over $2 million, according to an online watchdog concern.

It is because of these discoveries that Parrish is concerned about the direction of the NFLPA with regard to hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the retired players who had their the pension plan “infiltrated” by concerns not in their best interests – as well as the logic of the newly elected Executive Director.

“Well it doesn’t appear that a positive change is gonna happen,” said Parrish, “with Smith saying he was keeping Berthelsen and Kessler; and was ‘happy with the current staff’ – I don’t know how he was able to assess that over 3 days;

“They say they pay homage to us – well, homage doesn’t pay much; we’re owed 100s of millions of dollars because of the collusion between Upshaw, Tagilabue, the owners and Aon Consulting, who controls our plan actuaries; and our salaries are held down by Aon, who was ordered to pay $190 million in restitution to clients in Illinois, New York, and Connecticut – for cheating their customers.”

Parrish went on to imply there is more to this, and he is sending a letter to the new Executive Director to get a first – hand response to what he discovered.

“Smith says his staff is just fine; the same ones who violated fiduciary responsibility in taking care of our concerns. You think AIG’s crooked? Wait ’til all this comes out.”

BASN will continue to keep you posted on this issue.